Choos­ing Less

Les­son from Tan­za­nia


My hus­band and I spent a year in a small town in Tan­za­nia. When I say a “small town,” I mean a town with two stop­lights, no su­per­mar­ket, no restau­rants to speak of, only one two-story build­ing, and no en­ter­tain­ment! We lived in a sim­ple house with only the most ba­sic fur­nish­ings and con­ve­niences.

Our move to Tan­za­nia was mo­ti­vated by an op­por­tu­nity to join a fledg­ling hu­man­i­tar­ian ef­fort striv­ing to bet­ter the lives of dis­abled peo­ple by giv­ing them mo­bil­ity and help­ing them be in­de­pen­dent and earn a liv­ing. In the two years lead­ing up to our move, we got mar­ried, had a child, and spent months fundrais­ing to make our project a re­al­ity, or a semi-re­al­ity.

On the first night in our new “home­town,” there was a power cut. These are very com­mon in ru­ral Africa and can last any­where from min­utes to days. This one lasted a few hours and was an in­tro­duc­tion to the fact that noth­ing was go­ing to hap­pen on our timetable. We could push as hard as we wanted, but we weren’t go­ing to have much suc­cess against the facts of life on the ground.

So for the first time in years, we slowed down. We adopted a new pace for life that in­volved such things as daily walks to the mar­ket, hang­ing laun­dry, and cloth di­a­pers. We adapted to not hav­ing any in­ter­net, TV or movies, “ur­gent” emails, time-sen­si­tive meet­ings, or ve­hi­cle to rush to places with. Our lives had no emer­gen­cies. Even if we felt like we had an emer­gency, we couldn’t move any­thing faster than the pace it was go­ing to move at.

It was ter­ri­bly frus­trat­ing at first! Ev­ery step of ev­ery process was so slow! And in the end, as much as I wanted to change the modus operandi of the town, what re­ally changed was me. My life slowed enough that I found my­self ap­pre­ci­at­ing the bright blue sky and the open red earth that stretched out all around us. I be­gan to make friends with the cheer­ful vil­lagers. I stopped miss­ing movies and the in­ter­net. I learned to en­joy very sim­ple food and cloth­ing, and an un­clut­tered life­style.

The big­gest change that year brought about was in my mar­riage. Our busy­ness was no longer an is­sue, and our lives slowed down enough that we got to re­ally know each other. Of­ten in the evenings, there was noth­ing to do but spend qual­ity time to­gether. We would sit in the dark

(be­cause the mos­qui­toes would flood our room if we had the lights on) and ask each other ques­tions about hopes, dreams, likes, wants, wishes, and fears. With­out the dis­trac­tion of mod­ern life, our re­la­tion­ship as fol­low­ers of Christ, friends, and lovers grew stronger ev­ery day.

Back in the USA, we have many rea­sons to rush and reg­u­lar emer­gen­cies. We have the ameni­ties—su­per­mar­kets, restau­rants, the in­ter­net, paved roads, and mod­ern medicine—and the strug­gles—no time to be still, and a life that moves too fast to re­ally con­nect with peo­ple.

I of­ten catch my­self think­ing back wist­fully on my year in Tan­za­nia. I trea­sure those mem­o­ries of peace, con­nec­tion, and sim­ple plea­sures. To this day, I find my­self reach­ing for the sim­pler life be­cause of that ex­pe­ri­ence.

We tend to feel the pres­sure to start each new year with the com­mit­ment to be more or do more or get more—more stuff, more rush, more spend­ing, more earn­ing. But my heart and soul thrive on more con­nec­tion, more still­ness, more joy.

My prayer, as the new year be­gins, is for the courage to push back on the rush­ing and the ac­cu­mu­lat­ing— to give my soul time to con­nect with God and oth­ers, my body time to rest and recharge, and my mind time to grow and en­joy.

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